J.R. Carpenter Essay

Exploring the Works of J.R. Carpenter

            J.R. Carpenter is a self-described “Canadian artist, writer and maker of maps, zines, books, poems, fiction, non-fiction and non-linear hypermedia narratives” (Carpenter, J.R. Carpenter || Bio). She started her foray into electronic literature in 1995 with an HTML project titled Fishes and Flying Things. Since this first work, Carpenter expanded her portfolio of electronic works to include not only HTML works, but more dynamic elements like scripts and videos. Throughout these works however, one can find a unifying theme. Carpenter uses geographic, cartographic, and location-aware elements to contrast and emphasize the personal, emotional themes in her hypermedia narratives.

Starting with one of her early works, Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls, we can see Carpenter exploring the forking paths of a non-linear narrative. It is an HTML and image-driven piece of electronic literature focusing on interpreting the female body as a landscape. In it, the female body is explored, metaphorically, using the language of geography and cartography. The interface is littered with maps and figures lifted from geology texts, civil engineering manuals, and other books  (Carpenter, Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls | ELMCIP).

The reader is presented with a main menu of sorts where links to all the bits and pieces of this work are presented at once, then allowing the user to pick one and explore from there. This non-linearity allows a form of exploration influenced by the Choose Your Own Adventure books (Carpenter, Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls | ELMCIP). At the same time, the subject matter lends itself extremely well to this exploration: a personal narrative of a female exploring her body mingles well with the idea of landscapes and cartography, a more literal, real-world exploration. The metaphors used by Carpenter juxtapose intensely personal descriptions of a woman’s body with geographical descriptions bordering on sterile in tone. An example of this can be seen in the work’s “groin.html” page:

The sea led her tongue across me and wore me down in my holder and followed me home to the Valley, where the shoreline is long, and notably irregular; where the tide rushes into the Bay of Fundy like fire in the wake of an earthquake, like blood into the groin of a girl. (Carpenter, J.R. Carpenter || Mythologies and Landforms of Little Girls)

            Initially, this passage’s imagery strikes vivid imagery of tongues and such, but then the tone is swapped for something a lot more sterile – irregular shorelines. Subsequently, the reader is knocked back into intense metaphors of earthquakes and fires, finally letting us realize that Carpenter was discussing menstruation. The passage is then followed by a detailed image of a map with a red flourish symbolizing the blood. The textual metaphors, along with the imagery, show the blending of personal topics with dry, geographic themes.

Another of Carpenter’s notable works is Entre Ville, a significantly more recent work (2006). This electronic work is crafted in HTML along with JavaScript and features embedded video clips. The textual part of the piece consists of a narrative poem divided into eight sections, each telling a short event occurring in Carpenter’s back alley. These are told from the point of view of Carpenter herself. The reader is exposed to various aspects of the alleyway, apparently from her balcony, from the alleyway itself, and some from inside her apartment. She tells us of the curtain of underwear separating her balcony from that of her Greek neighbors and of the urgent sex being had upstairs (Carpenter, J.R. Carpenter || Entre Ville).

These snippets of stories and snapshots of people’s lives are complemented by a side panel of clickable doors and windows, each opening a new window when clicked. These reveal a collection of videos shot by Carpenter in her alleyway. Each video clip shows a different aspect of her alleyway, and gives the reader further insight into the poem’s sections. The tone of the clips is very dry and emotionless, mostly comprising of close-ups of mundane objects such as fences, mattresses, and curtains. This contrasts well with the poem, which is a very lively narrative.

For example, in the third section of the poem, Carpenter discusses how “each apartment’s gallery / trains a curious / opera glass eye / upon its neighbouring loge”   (Carpenter, J.R. Carpenter || Entre Ville). This is followed by simple imagery of a gurgling sound by a pool, and then a more human look at a Frenchman playing his trumpet. So from this section, the portion that is placed in a video is the gurgling of the pool. Between the people staring into each other’s apartments, the Frenchman, and the gurgling pool, by far the least engaging is the one that makes it into the video clip.

This work is extremely personal in the sense that it really does give us a first-hand account of what it’s like to live in the author’s neighborhood. Not only does she textually describe the typical events of her back alleyway, but she gives us actual moving imagery to further the immersion. It is very important to note, however, the wide gap in tone between the two sets. The poem tells us the stories of people and how they interact, meanwhile the videos are mostly just quick views of inanimate objects and set-pieces described in the poem. This contrast between the two allows Carpenter to convey the idea of living in her Montreal neighborhood by providing the reader with both personal facets and a dry, muted look at mundane imagery.

Carpenter provides us with a certain duality of tone that is quite rare. She walks a fine line between personal narratives and purposefully sterile and mundane references to geography and descriptions of physical spaces. This style allows her to create poignant contrasts between different aspects of her story: accentuating the personal by placing it next to the ordinary. From the cartographic adventures and metaphors of the female body, to the somber alleyway seemingly contradicting itself by brimming with activity, Carpenter’s imagery creates a unique dynamic.


Works Cited

 BIBLIOGRAPHY Carpenter, J.R. J.R. Carpenter || Entre Ville. 2006. 9 May 2012.

—. J.R. Carpenter || Bio. n.d. 8 May 2012.

—. J.R. CARPENTER || Introduction to Electronic Literature. n.d. 8 May 2012.

—. J.R. Carpenter || Mythologies and Landforms of Little Girls. 1996. 8 May 2012.

—. Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls | ELMCIP. n.d. 9 May 2012.




"RIVIERA" follows the expected Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries signature we’ve studied in “THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES”: A lot of on-screen text set to jazz music.

However, “RIVIERA” differs in that it offers four concurrent texts (I’m unsure if they should be called poems or narratives or something else, so I’m going with texts). All of the texts share a theme: the Hae-Oondae (also spelled Haeundae) beach in South Korea, and each line exposes a different facet of said beach. Additionally, each text is synchronized to a different instrument of the jazz soundtrack.

  1. Saxophone: This text focuses on describing events aboard a ship docked at the beach. The saxophone is prominent during the first half of the song, but then quiets.
  2. Drums: The drums are featured nearly nonstop throughout the work. As such, I suspect this is the longest of the texts. It tells of the beach, and the water, and events involving honeymooners, whores, and sailors. The beat of the drums is sometimes erratic which makes it hard to read. However, it speeds up in sections, which one might think is harder to read, but because of the constant speed, is actually more pleasant.
  3. Trumpet: Describes couples on the shore, and their romantic endeavors. This instrument/text stays static throughout most of the work, but gets a lot of action in the latter half.
  4. Bass: Like the drums, the bass is nearly constantly flowing. This text discusses the flora and fauna of the beach. It tells about the seaweed, the marine animals, and even the concrete that makes up the boardwalk.

It’s worth noting that the Chinese version, which I could not read, features a completely different soundtrack. Instead of the English version’s upbeat, instrumental jazz, it features a slow, soulful jazz track with full vocals.

Responses to: Digital Language Movies

"The Struggle Continues"

My first exposure to Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries was circa 2004, when “SAMSUNG MEANS T0 C0ME” was featured on AlbinoBlackSheep. I thought it was novel, and funny. Now in the context of this class I can appreciate the group’s work better. 

Black text on a white background, flashing words and phrases, all in capital letters, set to upbeat jazz music. Tools the work employs to engage you as intensely as it can without resorting to images. Instead the gigantic, screen-filling text assaulted me at high speeds, and in capital letters no less, the Internet equivalent of yelling. Exclamation points are abused to no end. The jazz kept my feet tapping throughout, my face a foot from the 24” monitor.

The subject matter, a struggle that apparently continues, is quite love as lust anthem. It inspires love for all. Not just any love though, the lustiest, dirtiest variety of love. Although it starts off relatively tame, it eventually unravels into it’s true form of gratuitous adjectives and metaphors describing some intense sexual acts and love. It was a borderline arousing experience.

"Star Wars, One Letter at a Time" 

 This work flashes the script of Star Wars: A New Hope on-screen at a very slow, yet very fast rate. It is very slow because it is done one letter at a time. Because it is shown only one letter at a time (no scrolling text), and done at the speed of what appears to be a court stenographer. The text is accompanied with typewriter sounds: clicking, clacking, bells, and spinning gears.

I found it nearly impossible to enjoy, the parts I was able to follow consistently were those I recognized from the movie, and used that context to understand it. While the concept is novel, it wore out fast for me. It feels like a gimmick, as it’s not like the author created a text that would match the strength of the interface, nor are there pauses, or timings to take note of. It’s an endless string of nonstop letters from someone else’s script.

Project for Tachitoscope

A surrealist look at advertising and subliminal messages. This work really draws you in with it’s eerie, pulsating music and the quick, yet readable pace of it’s intricate text. It loops endlessly, allowing you to choose when you’ve had enough. It really is fascinating and I found myself lost in it for a few minutes.

Response to: “Universo Molécula” by Isaías Herrero

Constructed with what appears to be black magic instead of JavaScript, this work is visual pleasure to navigate. Starting off with what seems like a static menu, as soon as you move the mouse, you notice everything shifting, the view is dynamic. You navigate across the giant interface, one screen at a time.

Will update with more details later. Writing this on a campus PC and don’t have access to the work, so writing from memory.

Response to: “Ah” by K. Michel and Dirk Vis

A single, horizontal line scrolling across the screen. This shouldn’t be too complex I thought. Suddenly, more words than you can parse scramble across the one line, juxtaposed. The one line becomes a discernible mess. Words scrolling by at different speeds mingle between other words, forming new phrases and sentences. The work’s constant stream allows you to catch glimpses of new ideas, depending on when and where you are looking, you will catch new and different ideas, warranting multiple reads (or viewings). I had it all figured out, then there’s a fork, like a river that just split into multiple streams. Now parallel lines, the author conveys multiple ideas separately, forcing me to split my vision among two trains of thought.

I like it.

Concrete Poetry and First Screening

Concrete Poetry in recent times can be traced back to Brazil in the 1960s, but the style can be traced back to 3rd century BC Greek Alexandria. The concrete style of poetry utilizes the shape and organization of words and letters as additional tools in conveying ideas. Creating visual art, as well as literature, within the same work can lead to some very interesting ideas.

I can look at at “Endemic Battle Collage” by George Huth, and see a surreal work that requires much more time to fully enjoy and understand than I could hope to dedicate. The fact that this poetic work incorporates animated text and even sounds, renders it an incredibly complex piece to analyze. Conveying so much information simultaneously, one can appreciate the power of Concrete Poetry with the electronic medium.

Inspecting Anipoemas, I must admit I am not necessarily impressed. Maybe my mind has been tarnished from viewing so much ASCII art on forums. I can appreciate the effort, but I feel like they are too simple. Perhaps like a spectator complaining Pollock’s paintings could be done by a 3-year-old, I just don’t get it.

bpNichol’s First Screening really caught my eye. Partly because the source code is provided and I can see the inner workings and how much code it took to just move a couple of letters across a screen. A collection of computer poems. We start with Island, which features an immobile rock surrounded by never ending waves. Later we can see a stream of dreams rolling by quickly, and maybe also rolling around in bed all night. Letter shows a sentence rolling by, the first word become the last, the second word become the first, and shifting cyclically repeatedly. This gives the sentence new and different meanings. We then see a hoe being dragged across a field in a farm, underneath the sunshine. It leaves behind a trail spelling HOE-RIZON right where the field fades into the distance. Lastly, we are greeted by a tower increasing in height, spelling its own name in its construction.

David Knoebel’s VRML work

Knoebel’s poetry in VRML is an interesting application of the language. VRML, designed to bring 3D graphics to the web, is used by Knoebel to render text. Seems like a great twist of irony, but Knoebel’s work renders text in very interesting ways, taking advantage of the medium.

 In “A Fine View” Knoebel tells a story of roofers sitting on the edge (of a rooftop) during their break. They share stories of a coworker that fell off once. It wraps up with a similar story, of a cigarette being flicked over the edge and it’s trajectory downward, much like the roofer that fell.

The interesting part is how the poem’s text is seen from a very far top view initially. As we “fall” towards the text, we can begin to read it, but soon enough it is whizzing past us at an increasing rate. That is until we slam into the ground, and it ends. Knoebel told the story of the fallen worker, the cigarette, or both textuallyandvisually.

Second Life Works

I planned on reading these works tonight after a long day of studying at Colegio. However, I have no power or water in Terrace, so this placeholder post from my phone is being written. Tomorrow it will be updated with a proper post on the Second Life works. :)

EDIT: Tumblr sucks. I just rewrote this post with full impressions and it lost my edit.

I finally got around to seeing the Trope machinima, and it did seem quite trippy. I would like to focus on a different aspect of Trope than usual. So I am turning my attention to the Orcinus orca, or killer whale to the layman. Trope features a large pond in the island, where an orca is trapped, swimming perpetually in circles. What could be the significance of this whale here? One conclusion I have reached is the pond could represent the construct of Second Life’s virtual world, and the whale is the player. The whale believes it is free, as it can see this environment and move around and do whatever it wants. However, this space is actually constricted. It is only as large as the designers allowed it to be, and the whale is beholden to the designers, as to what it can do, and where it can go. Thus the freedom is only a poor simulacra.

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